Biology of Cells

Back to guide home page.


Most of the notes needed for the lectures are in the lecture handout, although you may want to annotate them as you go through. The lectures are very information-dense so reading the lecture notes ahead of time is very useful. Ask the lecturer any questions you have at the end of the lecture or in an email – they will have useful information for essays (they will also be marking your exams so including what they feel is important information will help your essay stand out). Re-reading the lecture notes will stop you forgetting everything you learnt earlier, saving time on revision. The most important thing is to be able to explain the big ideas (eg. how proteins are delivered to different organelles or why amplification is needed in intracellular signalling).

The lecture series titles are listed below:

  • The Living Cell
  • Macro-molecules in the Cell
  • Membranes-Molecular Superstructure
  • Chemistry of Life I
  • Chemistry of Life II
  • Chemistry of Life III
  • The Living Cell Summary
  • Hunting the Gene
  • Genes in Action
  • The Genetic Revolution
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Signalling
  • Development
Just to note, the first lecture series is very facts-based and jumps between different topics very quickly, skipping lots of detail for later lectures. As such, whilst it may serve as a brief revision for those who have done Biology A-level, it is not a great introduction for non-biologists who may find it near impossible to keep up. Just read the lecture notes slowly in your own time and realise that they serve mostly as an introduction for later lectures.


Supervision work ranges from writing essays, answering short answer questions (SAQs) and doing practical paper questions. Your essays for supervisions may take a few hours to research, plan and write (especially if you’re a good procrastinator!). Don’t panic though – you will be surprised how much you can write for an essay in around 40 minutes in the exam with practice. Finally, make the most out of your supervisions by reviewing your essays, understanding concepts, and getting new ideas – don’t be afraid to ask questions! Further researching topics of interest by reading research papers can also help supplement your learning and improve essay writing.


There is one Biology of Cells practical per week. Each practical group has an allocated demonstrator and some practicals require you to complete and hand in on the day. However, these marks don’t count towards your end of year grades. Instead, practicals are marked by a practical exam paper at the end of the year, with questions relating to the method/theory of the experiments. Enjoy the practicals as they are interesting and can be quite fun, but try to stay focused on the tasks. Read the practical notes before the practical. Ask your partner/demonstrator questions and add notes to your practical sheets so that you know why the experiment is designed the way it is – the details are quite important. You will also have practicals to do online so some weeks you won’t have to go to labs. Remember that you will still be asked questions on these in the exam.

Quite a lot of the biology practicals require you to be able to do calculations and these more mathematical questions will most likely appear in the exam. Use the calculation cards at the front of your practical folder as these have all the formulae you’ll need to remember.

** 2020/21: Practicals were all carried out online via recorded videos and quizzes on Moodle. At the end of each practical there was a summary session over Zoom, which is extremely useful so definitely attend and ask questions. **


The theory paper has a short answer section on the whole course and 3 essay questions that you choose. Therefore you need to know a bit about the whole course and lots about only a few lecture series (be careful – not all lecture series may have an essay question). Knowing a few examples in detail that can be applied to different ideas will reduce the amount you have to learn. Learn to draw simple diagrams quickly to illustrate your points (e.g. endocytosis or the replication fork) as the exams are time-pressured. As there is more than one way to answer essay questions, going over them with others will help get new ideas. Reading textbooks can help if you don’t understand a topic, but don’t get flooded by facts – learn the big ideas. Space your revision out over a long time and keep revisiting lecture series you plan to use for essays to remember more details. Repetition is key! Essay plans are a good way to revise without having to write a whole essay. Practice writing timed essays as you get closer to exams, and remember to draw information from different lecture series where possible (this is good preparation for integrative essays in IB). By focussing on examples that can be applied to multiple topics you can reduce the amount of information you need to learn.

Don’t forget to revise the practical papers too. Read/summarise the practical handouts, making sure you understand everything. The more past papers you do, the better marks you will get. It may be easier to go through past papers in a group to compare answers.


You have two 3 hour exams for Biology of Cells. The theory paper has short answer questions on the whole course and three essay questions for you to choose. The short answer questions can usually be answered using a diagram with a little bit of writing and should only take a few minutes each. The essay questions will take around 40 minutes each. Plan your essays before you start writing so you can include all the important ideas first (you may not have time to write everything you know). Try to show some independent thinking by drawing ideas from different lecture series together. Knowing a few examples from your own reading can help your essays stand out as well but is not required for a good mark.

The practical paper has 9 questions, normally each one on a different practical. Answer questions you know how to do first to boost your confidence and to pick up as many marks as you can quickly. Keep an eye on the clock and move on if a question is taking too long.

Useful resources

  • Everything you need to know (and a whole lot more) – Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts et al, latest edition not necessary)
  • Consult the NST IA Biology of Cells Course Handbook as a reference for what you need to know.
Back to guide home page.

Our Sponsors

Chesterford Research Park